The future is circular
As the global fashion industry is in the throes of necessary change, proactive designers and makers are considering how to practically apply sustainability in their businesses.
As textiles made from pine-apple waste aren’t likely to become locally mainstream in the immediate future. It raises the question: What does sustainability mean for us?
Here are some considerations..
For brands and businesses aiming to up the sustainability factor of their product offering the most commonly considered locally available sustainable materials are hemp, organic cotton, mohair and wool. Other materials like Da Gama Shweshwe and cotton knits may not boast an obvious eco badge but due to the locality of part or all of the supply chain, the lighter carbon footprint makes it a better choice. Some makers are embracing textile and fashion waste through what is called ‘re-use’.
With transparency (in production) gaining traction, accountable producers are revealing the details of their supply chain by being more open about the resources used in manufacture.
In my design practice for example, a product life cycle infographic reveals details of the product’s origins, manufacture and ideal life stages, ending with the return of the worn-out garment via our take-back system.
A take-back system, a branch of extended producer responsibility, shifts waste responsibility onto the producer as used products are returned. Participating customers are incentivised to buy again, rewarding ‘responsible’ consumptive behaviour.
Our particular take-back system facilitates the return of garments at the end of their initial life cycle. Stained and worn returns are redesigned (up-cycled) to live out a second life. Returns are assessed for second-life feasibility according to an increasing level of re-design approaches ranging from garments needing over-dying, patching and disassembly (seams) to a complete re-design. With the idea of up-cycled apparel still foreign to the every-day consumer, created styles should be palatable and sophisticated to encourage adoption.
On a commercial scale, however, this type of system would necessitate an entire re-use and recycling infrastructure, with expansive systems thinking and specific product design processes.
Another practice gaining popularity is zero-waste. Whether in manufacture or in design methods this approach endeavours to keep manufacturing by-product out of landfill. Zero-waste is the combination and layout-out of patterns that results in zero to little (2%) waste. No part of the material, including selvage, is wasted.
In practice, I arrived at a simpler and more collaborative solution for by-products and returns of my seasonal collections – home decor which is collaboratively designed and made by local artisans.
Sustainability of the highest order would come in the form of a circular design system. This system allows for materials and product components to be re-used and recycled while maintaining the highest value in the resources for as long as possible. A truly circular system allows for resources to be used infinitely without waste, modelling nature’s perfect system of regeneration. Food systems are relatively simple to make circular . Take an apple for example, once beyond its prime it can be composted transferring the valuable nutrients.
But apparel is obviously a more complex and layered problem. Not least of which is the vast variety of chemicals and components used in manufacture which present environmental and recyclability challenges in composting and disassembly.
To make it work would require multiple participatory industries to form part of a newly created circular economy. And properly scaled recycling infrastructure and strong consumer sentiment would be vital factors to the success of the circular model.
By Sam Page
Founder of sustainable fashion brand Evodia and lecturer in fashion design and business.